Publisher: Textem Verlag
Size: 23 x 29 cm (approx.)
Hardcover, edition of 500 copies, design by Christoph Steinegger.
Large golden graphical letters embossed into a hardback jacket made of gray book linen advertise the Grand Prize.
“Hang on a second …,” many readers, at least in Germany, will think to themselves: “Wasn’t that some kind of quiz show in the 70s and 80s?”
And indeed, there was a quiz show called “Der Große Preis,” and it was actually quite popular. Moderated by Wim Thoelke, it ran from 1974 until 1992: every month, self-educated experts faced the host’s questions in their chosen specialty. Before the advent of the Internet and Wikipedia, the show, which had record ratings of up to 60%, offered total nerds an opportunity to shine and garner enthusiastic applause.
So the book’s title transports us back to our childhood, and we are tempted to think that its pages will plunge us into a faded pastel-colored world of jovially patriarchal talk-show hosts, blow-dried hairdos, horn-rimmed glasses, mullets, shoulder pads, and walrus moustaches.
But we’re in for a surprise. As in many of his previous photography projects, Volker Renner challenges us to cast our expectations of the familiar aside.
Instead of the quiz-show shots we might have anticipated, we see hands stretching into the pictures before sometimes colorful, sometimes somber backdrops. Many seem delicate, fragile, gentle, timid, uptight, restrained; others are sturdy, coarse, defiant, strong-willed, blustering, undeniably there. The pictures included in the book are animated by the interplay of light, color, posture, and pictorial composition. The hands seem to convey rhythm and movement, emotion and song. They clamor for our attention and tell us stories of love, pain, joy, grief, and other strong feelings.
So Der Große Preis, in this instance, clearly doesn’t refer to the abovementioned quiz show: the event at the heart of the book is of a different kind.
Volker Renner snapped these pictures during the 56th Eurovision Song Contest, which took place in Düsseldorf in May 2011. Instead of framing grand moments from the show, his photographs direct our attention to small gestures on the periphery of the event, throwing a spotlight on an ostensibly negligible detail. What is essential—the protagonists to whom these hands belong—is edited out, literally cut off, and we catch ourselves trying to complement what we see, to complete the picture.
And that is where Renner’s choice of title suddenly seems to make perfect sense: this is a picture puzzle, and we’ve already begun to try and undo the fragmentation of these pictures by placing them back in the larger context in which they originated. Consciously and unconsciously, we associate the photographs with sounds, melodies, choreographies, motion sequences, stage acrobatics, costumes, characters, and performers. And so we, too, turn into nerds: ideal candidates for Der Große Preis.